How you can Improve Mental Health with Exercise.

Lady dong yoga in a nice nature scene.

When we think of how exercise positively impacts our bodies and lives, typically, we think of the physical benefits. Physical exercise has gained quite the reputation for helping us get in better shape and prevent chronic illnesses. Regular exercise has been shown to help prevent the onset of various diseases. Exercise can be used as protection and prevention for many chronic diseases. However, did you know you can improve your mental health with exercise as well?

There are countless studies that demonstrate how exercise can improve your mental health. I mean, it makes sense. What is one of the primary reasons you hear people say they want to get into the gym? While the reason may change from person-to-person, a really common reason is to gain some confidence.


Confidence, is a strange thing. It’s something we feel, but isn’t technically an emotion. Confidence is often times associated with self esteem. While similar, the two are actually different. Confidence is in reference to how you feel about performing a task successfully. While self esteem is in reference to how you feel about yourself, whether that’s your behavior or how you look.

There are common situations where you might have plenty of self esteem but no confidence or vice versa. For example, I have good self esteem but I definitely don’t have the confidence that I can successfully cover Amari Cooper when he’s running a pass route. He would leave me in the dust.

However, building off of that, if lets say, I start to venture outside of my comfort zone and accomplish tasks I did’t think I could, then that expands my view of what I personally think I’m capable of. This, in the long run, will start to improve my self esteem as I start to accomplish more tasks that were traditionally outside my comfort zone. The reason being is, accomplishing new task leads itself to feelings of accomplishment and in general, a more positive mindset.

This makes sense because accomplishing new and harder tasks releases endorphins or what many people call “feel good hormones”.

Related content: How does exercise affect your self esteem?

The Goal Driven Mindset

What we just touched on somewhat outlines what we refer to as a goal driven mindset. Extrapolating what we just covered, but in the context of fitness, things start to make sense.

When we talk about fitness, whether it be to get healthy or to achieve more accomplishments through fitness, there always seems to be an underlying goal. Goals are great because they help us do things like expand not only our comfort zones but also our confidence levels and eventually our self esteem.

One of the major reasons fitness pays it dues so well in mental health is because it promotes goal driven mindsets. People who operate under goal driven mindsets are more likely to operate outside of their comfort zones. Along with this comes the higher likelihood of accomplishing new things but also for failing in new ways.

Failing in new ways is just as important as succeeding in new ways. People who fail frequently gain more life experience and are less scared of failing, simply because they have been there before.

Because of this, those who participate in a regular fitness regiment are less scared of failure. The concept of failure slowly becomes detached from their ego which yields it’s positive gains in both confidence and self esteem.

Mental Illness and Regular Exercise

Improve mental health with exercise - section image.

Besides confidence and self esteem, there are many other areas you improve mental health with exercise. As we have discussed, exercise has a rather high potential for improving your self esteem. But exercise also can serve as a mechanism to help remedy and anxiety as well.

Exercise and it’s impact on depression

According to studies done by and reported by Harvard, exercise can serve as a powerful treatment to depression. Many will call it “the exercise effect” or the “mind body connection”. Whatever you know it as, the reason exercise helps so much with exercise is because it helps the body grow in different ways then growing muscle.

Studies have shown that regular exercise stimulates the production and release of feel good hormones or endorphins. However, this is more typically found in high intensity exercise. For most people however, low intensity exercise, continued over long periods of time stimulate the release of not only endorphins but also neurotrophics.

Commonly referred to as growth factors, neurotrophics help your nerve cells grow and make better connections. The reason this helps those who suffer from depression is because studies have also found that people who suffer from depression have a smaller hippocampus then normal. The hippocampus is important because it helps regulate hormones.

Remember those growth factors we talked about? Those just so happen to help stimulate nerve growth in the hippocampus. Effectively acting as a remedy to poor mood regulation for those who suffer from depression.

Exercise, physical benefits, and how they manifest into an improved state of mental health

Besides growth factors and endorphins, regular exercise helps improve quality of sleep and helps protect against and manage chronic disease. Why this is important is because those who suffer from a chronic disease are more susceptible to suffering from additional mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety and may have a lesser quality of life – primarily due to the ailments and pain associated with their disease.

For example, those who suffer from diabetes are also more likely to suffer from what’s called neuropathy. Neuropathy is damage to nerve cells causing inflammation and pain in the affected areas, commonly in the hands and feet.

In a study done by the Journal of Diabetes and It’s Complications, they found that in just 10 weeks of regular exercise, diabetes patients suffering from neuropathy were able to “…significantly reduce pain and symptoms…“. This is important because neuropathy is one the leading causes of a decrease in quality of life in diabetes patients which can lead to depression and anxiety. Alleviation to this not only improves quality of life through alleviating pain but also because it can lead to an elevated mood, increased confidence in accomplishing daily tasks, and eventually better self esteem.

While this is only an example, there are loads of other examples that extend to different diseases and treatments.

Exercise and its impact on other mental illnesses

Besides depression, physical exercise can also help us out a lot in other areas including anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, and stress. Our nervous systems often respond certain ways to various forms of trauma. One recommendation for those who suffer with PTSD, Trauma, or stress is to really focus on the physical sensations you feel during exercise. This helps with establishing better connections in your nervous system and releasing some of the immobilization that was built up in the nervous system as a response to the trauma endured.

Exercise and leading a Healthy Life Style

Besides it’s impact on mental health and our physical fitness, exercising regularly also promotes healthier lifestyle choices beyond just making time for the gym. Regular exercise is strongly associated with better sleep and higher cognitive function. Primarily due to the growth factors that produced in the body as a response to regular fitness.

Additionally, those who exercise regularly are also more likely to do research on how to eat healthier and abide by a healthier diet. This, pair with regular exercise or activity is one of the best forms of medicine you can give you body.

Having trouble getting started?

Getting started with exercise can be the most difficult aspect next to being consistent. If you want to get started but are sure where to go, consider a personal trainer. Personal trainers can be great in terms of kick starting your exercise journey. They will arm you with all of resources and knowledge you need to pursue fitness.

Many personal trainers also specialize in chronic disease management. Additionally, many trainers are familiar with how we can improve mental health with exercise.

If you are thinking about talking to a personal trainer head over to where you can search for a trainer based on your needs – for free.

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